Cross Canada by trail

A section of the Trans Canada Trail in Cape Breton. -- Photo by John De Vesser, Special to Sun Media

A section of the Trans Canada Trail in Cape Breton. -- Photo by John De Vesser, Special to Sun Media

DIANE SLAWYCH -- Special to Sun Media

, Last Updated: 3:08 PM ET

Have you walked a part of the Trans Canada Trail yet? Most Canadians are only a 30-minute drive away from what will soon become the world's longest recreational trail.

TV broadcaster Valerie Pringle, for one, is willing to go a lot farther than a 30-minute drive to get to the part of the trail that interests her most. "I want to see the Myra Canyon in the Okanagan. The trail is on an old rail line surrounded by mountains."

As chairman of the Trans Canada Trail Foundation, a non profit organization, Pringle is enthusiastic about seeing the project's completion.

"The idea of the trail is so ambitious and speaks to how the country was opened up," she explains. "First it was the waterways with the traders and explorers, then the railway, the Trans Canada Highway... and now the TransCanada Trail."

This fall, the foundation will launch a $10 million corporate fund-raising campaign and Pringle is planning to meet with premiers to emphasize the trail's economic as well as health and fitness benefits.

When completed, the trail will span 18,078 km and wind its way through every province and territory, linking over 800 communities along its route. With Canada Day approaching it seemed an ideal time to find out how this enormous project, which began in 1992, is progressing.

So far, 60% (10,900 km) of the trail has been completed. And by the fall of 2010, the trail will span the entire country and accommodate at least two of the core recreational activities: Hiking and cycling.

The Prince Edward Island section is complete (it's known locally as the Confederation Trail). Work on the British Columbia and Quebec sections is on schedule, but more remains to be done in the northern parts of Ontario and Alberta. It's a huge task considering the trail is being built by volunteers who are donating money, labour, and materials.

"In rural or remote areas, it's more of a problem," explains Sanderson Layng, President of the Trans Canada Trail Foundation. "There isn't the population base to get people organized to cover such great distances. They might have to travel 100 miles to connect with their neighbours."

The benefits are apparently worth the effort. A study by PricewaterhouseCoopers showed that the trail will generate $2.4 billion a year in value added income in the province of Ontario alone. "Merchants located near our trail say if it weren't for the trail they'd be out of business," says Layng. "In Quebec especially they're flourishing because of the trail."

The easiest parts to traverse are generally in urban areas. Some of the most difficult sections, which can be found in Newfoundland, have been rated "brutal" in the trail guidebook. Aside from walking and cycling, some parts of the trail allow for horseback riding, cross-country skiing, snowmobiling, and even canoeing (the MacKenzie River in the Northwest Territories is part of the trail).

Nothing will entice you more to go exploring, however, than the photographs in the foundation's official book: Trans Canada Trail: The 18,000-km Dream by Gerry L'Orange, photos by John de Visser. The coffee-table book, with French text, is a bestseller in Canada, and has recorded its highest sales in France. An English language version is due out this summer.

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IMMORTALIZED FOR $50

The Trans Canada Trail's primary fund-raising source is the sale of metres to the public. For a donation of $50, donors can have their names (or the names of anyone they choose) permanently inscribed in a trail pavilion along the route of the trail.

The first pavilion was installed 10 years ago in Caledon East, which was the site of an anniversary re-dedication this past weekend. There are now 70 pavilions across the country and more than 200,000 Canadians have donated so far. For more information check tctrail.ca.


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